Laura and John Arnold Foundation

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Laura and John Arnold Foundation
Typeprivate foundation
Key people

The Laura and John Arnold Foundation (also known as LJAF and as the Arnold Foundation) is a private foundation run by John D. Arnold, an American hedge fund manager, and his wife Laura Arnold.[1] The organization was founded in 2008, the same year that the Arnolds signed the Giving Pledge, a pledge by some high-net-worth individuals to donate a large fraction of their income to philanthropic causes during their lifetimes.[2]

The foundation has focused its donations on the issues of K-12 education reform, public pension reform, criminal justice reform, dietary policy, and improving reproducibility in science.[1]


The foundation was started by John D. Arnold, an American hedge fund manager, and his wife Laura Arnold in 2008, the same year they signed the Giving Pledge, a pledge by some high-net-worth individuals to donate a large fraction of their income to philanthropic causes during their lifetimes.[2][3]

Arnold had started donating to Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) in 2004 with a gift of $30,000 which was then based in Houston, and two years later he and his wife pledged $10 million to help KIPP expand to other cities.[2] Other multi-million gifts followed to other education programs, for example to Washington, D.C. city schools for merit pay, to Teach for America, and to StudentsFirst.[2]

When the foundation started giving, it broadened its focus to criminal justice and public pensions,[2] and later to addressing the reproducibility crisis in science and working to ensure that public policy is grounded on sound science.[1]

In August 2012 the Foundation launched the Giving Library to help other philanthropists make their gifts more efficient and effective.[4]

In the period 2011–2016, LJAF made $684 million in grants, distributed as follows: $75 million for criminal justice, $206 million for education, $147 million for evidence-based policy and innovation, $1.5 million for planning, $81 million for research integrity, $5 million for science and technology, $56 million for sustainable public finance, and $112 million for new initiatives.[5]

Strategy and areas of focus[edit]

The Arnolds have used an investment management approach to giving, and as of 2013 the foundation targeted some of its giving to low risk, well-established institutions to help maintain their efforts, and most of its giving to higher risk efforts that the Arnolds view as having a higher potential to drive change over the long term.[6]

Criminal justice[edit]

In the period 2011–2016, LJAF allocated $75 million in grants for its criminal justice initiative.[5]

Anne Milgram worked as the Attorney General for the state of New Jersey where she worked to bring data to bear on the New Jersey state justice system and became a professor at New York University; she was recruited by the foundation to become its vice president for criminal justice.[7] In a 2013 TED talk, she explained her work at LJAF creating tools to capture and use data to make the justice system more effective and efficient, which she called "Moneyballing crime".[8] In 2013 the LFAF starting making available a web-based tool to assist courts in better assessing whether to release people on bail or keep them imprisoned after they are arrested but before the trial begins.[7]

An overview of criminal justice reform in the United States by GiveWell listed the Arnold Foundation as one of the top foundations in the United States working in the area, along with the Open Society Foundation, The Pew Charitable Trusts' Public Safety Performance Project, the Ford Foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, the Public Welfare Foundation, and the Smith Richardson Foundation.[9]

The foundation funded continuous aerial surveillance of Baltimore, Maryland.[10][11]

The foundation is also linked to questionable criminal justice practices. In 2016, The Baltimore Sun reported that the foundation donated $360,000 to fund a controversial surveillance program in Baltimore conducted secret, warrantless aerial surveillance of Baltimoreans on behalf of the Baltimore Police Department. The BPD conducted the surveillance without informing elected officials or the general public, suspending the program after public revelation. [12][13]

K-12 education[edit]

According to their list of grants, they have spent $206 million on grants related to education.[5]

In May 2012, Reuters reported that the Laura and John Arnold Foundation had committed $20 million over a five-year period to an initiative called StudentsFirst led by Michelle Rhee, who used to head the Washington D.C. public school system.[14] StudentsFirst reported its spending shortly thereafter.[15]

On June 26, 2012, the Foundation launched the ERIN Project, a tool to help analyze the national K-12 education landscape[16]

During the United States federal government shutdown of 2013, the foundation announced that it would be donating $10 million in emergency funds to the Head Start program so that some 7,000 kids from low-income families could continue to receive educational services.[17][18][19] The programs were at risk because their Federal grants were up for renewal after October 1.[17] The federal government reinstated Head Start funding in a deal approved by Congress on January 13, 2014.[20]

Laura and John Arnold are listed as one of the biggest benefactors to the Wikimedia Foundation.[21]

Public accountability[edit]

The foundation has funded various politically-oriented 501(c)4 organizations, including Engage Rhode Island.[22] Many of these organizations advocate pension fund reform, encourage state and local governments to reduce benefits to workers and to invest assets in riskier investments such as hedge funds.[23] Some have criticized the foundation's efforts, saying that hedge fund managers collect generous sums in fees for managing the funds, while the workers are left with reduced pensions.[2][24][25]

LJAF's attempts at pension reform have been met with hostility, and critics have argued that they have bought out groups such as the Pew Charitable Trust, the Public Broadcasting Service, and the Brookings Institution.[26][27][28][29] In March 2014, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that Pensions and Investments had asked the Pew Charitable Trust to stop taking money from the LJAF because of the LJAF's support for pension reform.[30]

In July 2014, the Arnold Foundation donated $2.8 million to the Center for Public Integrity to launch a new project focused on state campaign finance. According to the International Business Times, "as CPI was negotiating the Arnold grant, Arnold’s name was absent from a CPI report on pension politics." Arnold has spent at least $10 million on a campaign to roll back pension benefits for public workers.[31][32]

Research integrity[edit]

One of the first projects funded by the foundation was research into obesity, which was drawn to Arnold's attention when he heard an interview with Gary Taubes on the EconTalk podcast.[1] Subsequent conversation between Arnold and Taubes led to the foundation funding the Nutrition Science Initiative in San Diego, where Taubes and Peter Attia and are trying to find the cause of obesity.[33][1] The foundation backs the Action Now Initiative (ANI) which in turn funds The Nutrition Coalition (TNC) which backed Nina Teicholz when she wrote an investigative piece for The BMJ.[34]

In 2013 the foundation funded the launch of the Center for Open Science with a $5.25 million grant and by 2017 had provided an additional $10 million in funding.[1] It also funded the launch of the Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford at Stanford University run by John Ioannidis and Steven Goodman to study ways to improve scientific research.[1] It also provided funding for the AllTrials initiative led in part by Ben Goldacre.[1]

LJAF has published guidelines, based on the Open Science Framework, that anybody seeking research funding from them must follow.[35]

As of 2017 it had given around $80 million in grants under its "Research Integrity" initiative.[1]


LJAF has also received hostile media coverage in connection with its funding of initiatives favoring pension reform.[26][27][28][29][30]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Apple, Sam (January 22, 2017). "The Young Billionaire Behind the War on Bad Science". Wired.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Preston, Caroline (October 16, 2011). "A Thirtysomething Billionaire Couple Take on Tough Issues Via Giving". Chronicle of Philanthropy.
  3. ^ Arnold, John D.; Arnold, Laura. "Giving Pledge letter" (PDF). Giving Pledge. Retrieved March 25, 2014.
  4. ^ Kroll, Luisa (August 14, 2012). "Billionaire John Arnold And His Wife Launch Giving Library". Forbes.
  5. ^ a b c "Grants". Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Retrieved March 25, 2014.
  6. ^ "The Bold Philanthropy of Laura and John Arnold Embraces Risks and Bets Big". The Bridgespan Group. February 7, 2013.
  7. ^ a b Davis, Jenny B (November 1, 2013). "Ex-NJ attorney general works to reform the pretrial process with a Texas foundation's backing". ABA Journal.
  8. ^ Milgram, Anne (October 2013). "Why smart statistics are the key to fighting crime". TED.
  9. ^ "Criminal Justice Reform". GiveWell. Retrieved May 14, 2014.
  10. ^ "Baltimore Will Continue Aerial Surveillance Program". 2016-08-25.
  11. ^ "Radiolab Podcast". 2016-09-12.
  12. ^ Prudente, Tim. "A look at recent Baltimore Police scandals, from De Sousa's resignation to Gun Trace Task Force". The Baltimore Sun. The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  13. ^ Donovan, Doug. "Donor to Baltimore police surveillance program says privacy debate 'healthy'". The Baltimore Sun. The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  14. ^ Simon, Stephanie (May 15, 2012). "Michelle Rhee, Education Activists Targeting U.S. Schools, Backed By Big Bucks". Huffington Post (originally from Reuters).
  15. ^ Simon, Stephanie (June 25, 2012). "StudentsFirst Spending: National Education Reform Group's Partial Tax Records Released". Huffington Post (originally from Reuters).
  16. ^ "Laura and John Arnold Foundation Launches Powerful K-12 Education Tool". Dallas Business Journal. 2012-06-26.
  17. ^ a b Emma, Caitlin (October 7, 2013). "Philanthropists pledge $10 million to restore 7,000 Head Start seats". Politico.
  18. ^ October 8, 2013, 8:58 AM (2013-08-23). "Laura and John Arnold donate $10 million to help Head Start amid government shutdown". CBS News.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  19. ^ Cherkis, Jason (2013-10-07). "Head Start Back In Business Thanks To Private Donation In Wake Of Government Shutdown".
  20. ^ Frias, Jordan (February 3, 2014). "Head Start Funding to Be Reinstated in Boston, Nationally". Boston Urban News.
  21. ^ Wikipedia 15 Contributors Retrieved January 15, 2016.
  22. ^ Juan, Gonzalez; Amy, Goodman (September 26, 2013). "Matt Taibbi on How Wall Street Hedge Funds Are Looting the Pension Funds of Public Workers". Democracy Now!.
  23. ^ "Looting the Pension Funds: How Wall Street Robs Public Workers | Politics News". Rolling Stone. 2013-09-26.
  24. ^ Reid, Tim (2013-06-25). "Texas hedge fund billionaire seeks California pension reform". Reuters.
  25. ^ "A closer look at the Texas billionaire who backed EngageRI | Blogs". 2013-05-20.
  26. ^ a b Cohn, Gary (September 24, 2013). "Promise Breakers: How Pew Trusts Is Helping to Gut Public Employee Pensions". Huffington Post (originally from Frying Pan News).
  27. ^ a b Sirota, David (February 13, 2014). "How PBS is becoming the Plutocratic Broadcasting Service". PandoDaily.
  28. ^ a b Sirota, David (February 12, 2014). "The Wolf of Sesame Street: Revealing the secret corruption inside PBS's news division". PandoDaily.
  29. ^ a b Hiltzik, Michael (February 28, 2014). "First PBS, now Brookings: Has another institution sold its soul?". Los Angeles Times.
  30. ^ a b "Pension Funds Press Pew to Cut Arnold Foundation Ties". Chronicle of Philanthropy. March 4, 2014.
  31. ^ Sirota, David (August 6, 2014). "Enron Mogul John Arnold Funds State Politics... And Now Journalism About Money in State Politics". International Business Times.
  32. ^ Reid, Tim (2014-06-25). "Texas hedge fund billionaire seeks California pension reform". Reuters.
  33. ^ Purdy, Chase; Bottemiller Evich, Helena (October 7, 2015). "The money behind the fight over healthy eating". Politico.
  34. ^ "About Us". The Nutrition Coalition. Retrieved October 10, 2015.
  35. ^ "Guidelines for Investments in Research" (PDF). Laura and John Arnold Foundation. July 29, 2013. Retrieved March 25, 2014.

External links[edit]